Belfast pubs calling time early is a bold move - The Irish News view

Our take on decision by owners of Duke of York and Harp Bar to close at midnight rather than taking advantage of late licence change

MPs support making it easier for pubs to stay open longer for major occasions
(Yui Mok/PA)

LICENSING laws in this part of the world have long been debated and discussed.

Many column inches and hours on the airwaves have been given over to assessing whether they’re fit for purpose or should be brought into line with other cities, both across the UK and Europe, as well as south of the border.

Willie Jack’s letter to The Irish News, which we published yesterday, certainly continued that public conversation.

In it, Mr Jack, and the directors of Commercial Courts Inns Ltd, said their Belfast venues will call last orders at midnight daily.

The group – which owns The Duke of York and Harp Bar in the bustling Cathedral Quarter - say they have “noticed a shift with many of our clientele deciding to come out earlier, and leave earlier”.

They go on to point to factors such as transport options and safety for customers, as well as a commitment to providing their staff with “the best work-life balance possible”.

In their letter, Mr Jack and his fellow directors insist they don’t want to be contributing to decisions which will make the Cathedral Quarter “another Temple Bar”.

Their decision is certainly a bold one and bucks the trend given new legislation allows for hostelries such as theirs to stay open until 3am.

That change followed years of campaigning by various individuals and groups in order to address Northern Ireland’s licensing laws which have often been described as antiquated and in need of updating.

There’s no doubt the industry is in need of freshening up. A recent survey for Hospitality Ulster found that only 16% of those asked said they were optimistic about the prospects of the hospitality sector here.

The same report found that the proportion of business operators fearing they are at immediate risk of failure in the coming three months had gone down from 18% to 6%.

The sector is facing challenges on a number of fronts, including non-domestic rates with businesses here faced with higher rates per pound than similar businesses in GB.

When the new modern liquor licensing legislation was announced in 2022, Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill wrote in The Irish News how it marked “a significant step forward for every hospitality business and will hopefully add a spring to the step for an industry which is still working under immense pressure”.

With that backdrop, Mr Jack and his fellow directors should be applauded for taking a bold step which they clearly feel is right for their businesses – and its 80 members of staff.

We’re coming towards peak tourist season and, so, anything that contributes to enhancing the sense of Belfast as a vibrant, fun and safe city, we’ll drink to that.